Performing Vs. Learning

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between performing versus learning. This seems to come up more in math than other subjects due to the obscure nature of mathematics– we always need to legitimize why students need to learn it. That’s its own conversation.

Performing is students completing a task correctly in a timely manner. Performing makes “teaching” easier. Tests and homework can be graded– we can score the student on how she has performed by giving her a letter grade. This is a metric that we have been using for decades to show what a student knows. However, everybody has had their easy teachers and their hard teachers, whether in math or in some other subject. Because of this there is an inherent problem with assessing students with this metric. Different students may have different grades for doing the same work.

Posing an equal and opposite problem is standardized testing. Students are taught to perform tasks, mathematical or otherwise, and get the correct answers. It is, for the most part, procedural thinking. The Common Core was intended to do away with this procedural method of thinking and have students actually learn instead of doing meaningless procedures. Due to the nature of The Common Core being standardized and the requirement to assess millions of students on their progress, students now need to jump through hoops by doing procedures that are more meaningless than they were in the first place.

Learning is much different than performing, especially with mathematics. We teach math that it’s about getting the correct answers, but it really shouldn’t be. The end goal should be that students get the correct answers, but the correct answers should be based on a learning experience that expands their thinking– there are a lot of methods of obtaining the correct answers.

What methods do we use to make sure that students are learning instead of just performing? I’ve got some ideas, but I’ll save them for later. Make sure you’ve seen my previous post: Thoughts from Winter Break.


Also some of my thinking was shaped by this article from The Hechinger Report.

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